Hot Pursuit (Black Knights International #11) by Julie Ann Walker


This title may be purchased from Amazon

He puts the hot…

Christian Watson, a former SAS officer and current BKI operator, never thought he would return to England after a terrible turn of events forced him to abandon his homeland. But now he’s back on British soil where old enemies are determined to do him in. Fighting for his life is pretty much SOP for Christian. Doing it with the beautiful, bossy Emily Scott in tow is another matter entirely.

In hot pursuit.

Emily lost her coveted job at the CIA because of a colleague turned rogue, and now she has just one rule when it comes to men: they’re for recreational purposes only. But when she and Christian are thrust into very close quarters while evading two mysterious men who want Christian dead, she can’t help but question all her ideas about love and life lived on the edge. Battling the bad guys is hard enough, battling her feelings for Christian just might prove impossible.

Rating: D-

Hot Pursuit is the latest in Julie Ann Walker’s Black Knights Inc. series which features a group of ex- special forces operatives who now work for a covert government defence firm set up by a former US President.  The book is billed as romantic suspense, but disappointingly, it’s neither romantic nor particularly suspenseful; the central characters are supposed to be in their early thirties and yet act like a pair of hormonal teenagers much of the time, and Ms. Walker has a tendency to talk directly to her audience through the heroine, which is odd and the exact opposite of endearing.

The plot is tissue-paper thin.  After a mission gone wrong, Christian Watson, together with two other members of BKI, their office manager, Emily Scott (who apparently tagged along to keep them out of trouble), and a former marine turned charter-boat captain are forced to hole up in a small cottage in Cornwall until they can safely get out of England and back to the US.  Their anonymity is shot to hell, however, when a bunch of reporters turn up on the doorstep trying to get to Christian, to get the story of what happened when he was captured towards the end of the war in Iraq.  The timing was politically sensitive and the mission to rescue him was messy;  Christian was blamed for the incident (although his identity was never divulged) and quietly left the SAS. He has spent the last few years living well under the radar, so someone must have discovered his identity and location and fed it to the media.  The question is, who?

Watching the news on TV not far away are Lawrence and Ben Michelson, brothers of the soldier killed when the mission to rescue Christian went pear-shaped.  Both are police officers, but Lawrence is a loose cannon – he has never forgiven the unknown SAS officer for his brother’s death and the later deaths of both their parents, and is out for revenge.  Lawrence and Ben make for the cottage hide-out, just in time to witness Christian and his team make their escape, and then follow them to Newquay airport, where a jet is waiting.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

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You May Kiss the Bride (Penhallow Dynasty #1) by Lisa Berne (audiobook) – Narrated by Carolyn Morris

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Wealthy and arrogant, Gabriel Penhallow knows it’s time to fulfill his dynastic duty. All he must do is follow “The Penhallow way” – find a biddable bride, produce an heir and a spare, and then live separate lives. It’s worked so well for generations, certainly one kiss with the delectable Livia Stuart isn’t going to change things. Society dictates he marry her, and one chit is as good as another as long as she’s from a decent family.

But Livia’s transformation from an original to a mundane diamond of the first water makes Gabriel realize he desperately wants the woman who somehow provoked him into that kiss. And for all the ladies who’ve thrown themselves at him, it’s the one who wants to flee whom he now wants. But how will he keep this independent miss from flying away?

Rating: Narration – A- Content – D+

I admit that I picked up You May Kiss the Bride for review solely because of Carolyn Morris. Reviews for this début historical romance, the first in Lisa Berne’s Penhallow Dynasty series have been mixed, but I knew I’d at the very least enjoy the narration, so I decided it give it a go. In the end, my opinions about the story are pretty much along the same lines as the less than glowing reviews; it’s nothing I haven’t read before and the author’s inexperience shows clearly in terms of the storytelling and characterisation.

Livia Stuart hasn’t had an easy life. Orphaned in India when she was a child, she was sent back to England and resides with her listless aunt and drunken uncle, who never really wanted her and who wouldn’t miss her if she disappeared. She is constantly patronised by her neighbour and local mean girl, the Honourable Cecily Orr, who pretends friendship but in reality does everything she can to make “dear Livia” aware of her inferior situation, insisting on giving her her cast off gowns and never missing an opportunity to point out Livia’s status as a poor relation.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Most Dangerous Duke in London (Decadent Duke’s Society #1) by Madeline Hunter (audiobook) – Narrated by Charlotte Gray

This title may be downloaded from Audible.com.

Notorious nobleman seeks revenge

Name and title: Adam Penrose, Duke of Stratton. Affiliation: London’s elite Society of Decadent Dukes. Family history: Scandalous. Personality traits: Dark and brooding, with a thirst for revenge. Ideal romantic partner: a woman of means, with beauty and brains, willing to live with reckless abandon. Desire: Clara Cheswick, gorgeous daughter of his family’s sworn enemy.

Faint of heart need not apply

Clara may be the woman Adam wants, but there’s one problem: She’s far more interested in publishing her women’s journal than getting married – especially to a man said to be dead-set on vengeance. Though with her nose for a story, Clara wonders if his desire for justice is sincere – along with his incredibly unnerving intention to be her husband. If her weak-kneed response to his kiss is any indication, falling for Adam clearly comes with a cost. But who knew courting danger could be such exhilarating fun?

Rating: Narration – D+ Content – B+

I’ve read and enjoyed a number of Madeline Hunter’s books and I count myself among her fans, but given she’s one of the biggest names in historical romance, she’s being very poorly served when it comes to audio. Her last series, the Wicked trilogy, started out well, with His Wicked Reputation being excellently narrated by Mary Jane Wells, but went downhill when Ms. Wells was not used for the rest of the series. I was so disappointed by Lulu Russell’s lacklustre performance in book two, (Tall, Dark and Wicked), that I didn’t bother listening to the final book and stuck to the print version. And for her new Decadent Dukes Society series, Ms. Hunter again gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop, this time with a narrator who sounds like a teenaged girl. Maybe casting youthful sounding narrators works in some genres, but it doesn’t work in romance and it REALLY doesn’t work in historicals, where you need someone who can inject those aristocratic males with a sufficient degree of hauteur while at the same time making them sound attractive enough to appeal as a romantic hero. To cast for the ingénue heroine (although the heroine in this book isn’t an ingénue) almost always means getting someone with a very narrow range, whose voice lacks the necessary resonance and colour to be able to render the hero and a range of supporting characters from formidable dowagers to old family retainers. Ms. Gray has a vocal range of about half an octave, and her ‘hero voice’ is higher in pitch than my normal speaking voice. In the book, Adam, Duke of Stratton, is supposed to be dangerous – he’s fought lots of duels, he’s got an unpredictable temper, he’s dark and brooding and sexy – but he sounds as though he’s barely out of short trousers. I wanted to warm him some milk, ruffle his hair and ask if he’d finished his homework yet.

If I were Madeline Hunter, I’d be seriously displeased.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Secret of the India Orchid by Nancy Campbell Allen

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Anthony Blake is in love with his best friend’s sister, Sophia Elliot. But his plans to court her are put on hold when he is forced to resume his role as an undercover spy for the Crown. A secret document listing the names of the entire network of British spies-including his own-has been stolen. To protect Sophia, Anthony cuts off all ties to her and exchanges his life as an honorable earl for the façade of a flirtatious playboy.

Heartbroken and confused, Sophia travels to India, hoping to find healing in one of the most exotic regions of the British Empire. But the exotic land isn’t as restful as she had hoped. Instead, she finds herself embroiled in a mystery of a missing sea captain, a possible murder, and a plot that could involve the prince of India. And when Anthony appears at the British Residency, asking questions and keeping his distance from her, she is stunned.

She still loves him, and, in her heart, she knows he loves her too. But how can she rebuild her relationship with him if he won’t confide in her? Does she dare offer her heart to him a second time, or will their love be lost under the India sun?

Rating: D+

Nancy Campbell Allen’s The Secret of the India Orchid appealed to me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, much as I enjoy historical romances set in Europe, I’m always happy to see ones sent in more far-flung locations; and secondly, the premise of a dashing spy forced to conceal his true nature and purpose beneath the façade of a wastrel in order to protect his nearest and dearest is a trope that I enjoy when done well. Sadly, however, neither of those elements is particularly well-executed, and, together with weak characterisation and poor plotting, made for a plodding, insipid read overall.

Anthony Blake, Earl of Wilshire has been in love with his best friend’s sister, Sophia Elliot, for some time and is about to ask for permission to court her when his former boss and spymaster, Lord Braxton tells him that he must undertake one, last mission. Anthony, who was relieved to get out of the spying game a couple of years earlier upon assuming his title, is not best pleased at being drafted back into service, but when Braxton tells him of the theft of the Janus Document – which contains sensitive information about British agents, their families, their habits and every aspect of their lives, any of which could potentially be used as leverage against them – Anthony reluctantly agrees to retrieve it.

Two years later, still heartbroken over Anthony’s sudden departure and wanting to get away from her memories of him in England, Sophia lands in India, intending to spend some time there under the sponsorship of Lady Pilkington. She is, however, destined not to be able to use distance to lessen her attachment to Anthony because he’s recently arrived in Bombay on the next leg of his tour of carefree fun and frolic (as she thinks), and in reality still on the trail of the Janus Document. All Braxton could tell him about the theft was that he believed it had been perpetrated by someone who worked for him, Harold Miller. Anthony has received word that Miller’s uncle, a sea captain, is a guest of the Pilkington’s, hence his presence in Bombay. He believes the nephew may have passed the document to Captain Miller and intends to meet with him and interrogate him, but before he can do so, the captain is murdered and the contents of Lord Pilkington’s safe mysteriously disappear.

With the help of his friend, Captain Dylan Stuart of the First Light Cavalry, Anthony now has to find a murderer as well as the missing document, but in order to maintain his cover as a carefree wastrel, has to make it seem as though Stuart is conducting the investigation and he’s just along for the ride, which annoys him no end. Almost as much as it annoys him to see Sophia singled out for attention by other men.  And Sophia, who was deeply hurt by Anthony’s assertions (in his “Dear John” letter) that he viewed her as nothing more than a sister and good friend, twists the knife further when she asks him to help her to select a husband from among her admirers.

*sigh*

The problems with The Secret of the India Orchid are many, and add up to this; it’s a clichéd, dull book with no action, no sense of time or place and no romance to speak of.  Anthony and Sophia are in love from the beginning and stay that way; there is nothing in the writing to suggest their attitude towards each other has changed during their two year separation apart from Sophia’s slightly sarcastic responses to him when they meet again, and their relationship is pretty static.  All that happens is that Anthony finally tells her the truth (and I confess I did rather enjoy it when Sophia refuses to believe him at first) and they return to their former lovey-doveyness; and as characters, they’re bland and too good to be true.  In terms of the setting, other than the mention of curry, the odd Indian custom and the use of Indian names, there’s nothing to suggest the location and quite honestly, the book could have been set anywhere.  The mystery is weak and its solution depends on an overheard conversation; the identity of one of the perpetrators seems to be the result of drawing names from a hat, and the other is telegraphed from a mile away.

Ms. Campbell Allen’s writing is decent, but that can’t compensate for the books’ other deficiencies.  I read it so you don’t have to – give it a miss.

Her Favourite Duke (1797 Club #2) by Jess Michaels

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Simon Greene, Duke of Crestwood has been obsessed with Margaret Rylon for years. There is only one thing standing between them: her fiancé, who also happens to be his best friend. He is desperate not to destroy everything in his life by giving in to his desires, but when Meg and Simon are trapped alone together overnight during a storm, the resulting scandal not only breaks Meg’s existing engagement, but forces Simon to offer for her instead.

Margaret is sorry to have hurt her family and her fiancé, but all she’s ever wanted was Simon. Her determination to make a happy life with him is only heightened

when they submit to passions that have long dwelled beneath the surface. But while Simon may give her his body, he withholds his heart out of guilt and fear of what a connection to her may expose.

And if he doesn’t learn to fight for her soon, they both may lose a chance at happiness.

Rating: D+

I freely admit that I am not averse to a good dose of angst in the romances I read.  Because I know that everything will turn out in the end, it’s a safe way to indulge in a bit of heightened emotion and maybe even to reach for the Kleenex while knowing there’s that safety net of the eventual HEA.  So angst is fine.  Continual misery,  mental self-flagellation and navel-gazing? Not so much.  And that is almost all that this latest book from Jess Michaels offers.  Her Favorite Duke is based on the classic trope of young woman in love with her betrothed’s best friend; young man in love with his best friend’s betrothed, and oh, woe is we, for we can never be together.

Lady Margaret Rylon has been in love with her brother’s friend, Simon Green, Duke of Crestwood, for years.  They are great friends, sharing many interests and a sense of humour, and even though she is only sixteen, and he three years older, she dares to hope that perhaps one day they will be able to make a life together.  Her hopes are dashed, however, when her brother James arranges for her to marry another of his best friends, Graham, Duke of Northfield.

Seven years later – yes, you read that right, SEVEN years later – Meg and Graham are still not married.  I’ve heard of long engagements, but that seems pretty excessive, even though Meg was only sixteen when the betrothal took place.  There are no reasons given that make sense for this, and it’s hard to believe in all that time that neither Meg nor Graham ever wondered why they hadn’t set a date or that Meg’s brother – who obviously cares a great deal for her –  never questioned them or asked them to set one.

But if they had married, then there would be no book – and quite honestly, I think that might have been the better option. Anyway, now we’re in chapter one, James can encourage the pair to set a date, which finally makes things real for Meg.  Her friendship with Simon has become very strained and she is miserable; when she storms off during an outing, Simon can’t let her go alone and goes after her, without taking account of the vagaries of the English weather.

During the mandatory storm, they have to take shelter in the equally mandatory hut in the forest where they guiltily eye each other up once they have shed their sodden clothes and exchanged them for blankets.  All that happens between them is a passionate kiss, but when, the next morning, they are found by James, Graham and one of the ton’s (and note, referring to the ‘Upper Ten Thousand’ as the author does throughout is incorrect  – that term was coined in America later in the 19th century) biggest gossips – and I had rhetorically ask myself why the hell they took him along if they knew he’d blab about whatever they found – there is no alternative but for Meg and Simon to get married.

Having pined for each other for more than seven years, you think they’d be happy about that, wouldn’t you?

Alas, no.  Because now, Simon is eaten up with guilt because he’s betrayed one of his closest friends (I repeat – no horizontal mambos were performed) and thinks he doesn’t deserve to be happy.  He hates himself for what he’s done (which was actually just a kiss), and his failure to hide his misery from Meg makes her unhappy as well.  Adding in the worry about the scandal they’ve created and how the gossip will affect the family just makes things even worse.

Simon’s self-loathing doesn’t stop him from getting Meg into bed as fast as he can after their engagement is announced, and doesn’t stop him from shagging her as often as he can after that; but as soon as the deed is done, he turns back into Mr. I-am-not-worthy, his eyes cloud over with all that guilt and self-disgust and he’s off like a shot, leaving Meg sad, worried and – eventually – angry.

Meg is, fortunately, made of much sterner stuff than her spineless new husband, and soon gets seriously annoyed by his attitude.  It seems that Simon’s upbringing is largely to blame for his reluctance to fight for what he wants (although it’s a pretty lame excuse) and it’s another nail in the book’s coffin when brother James and sister-in-law Emma have to prod Simon and Meg in the right direction because they are incapable of seeing the truth for themselves.

If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be ‘dull’.  Or ‘dreary’, because the first three-quarters of it really are sluggish as both protagonists stew in their long drawn-out and repetitive misery.  The final few chapters improve (relatively, so that isn’t much) as Meg finally takes a stand and Simon realises he must learn to fight for what he wants, but quite honestly, I was past caring at that point and just wanted the book to be over.

Before I read Her Favourite Duke, I had very recently finished another novel that has a similar premise, and in which the hero also has to come to terms with the feelings of dishonour and the scandal associated with ‘stealing’ his friend’s bride.  But oh, my goodness, how different are the executions of that premise.  Whereas the other book was deft, delightful and charming, reading this was like wading through vast quantities of sludge in lead-lined boots.

I wouldn’t recommend subjecting yourself to it.

Brighter than the Sun (KGI #11) by Maya Banks (audiobook) – Narrated by Tad Branson

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

The Kelly Group International (KGI): A super-elite, top secret family run business.

Qualifications: High intelligence, rock-hard body, military background.

Mission: Hostage/kidnap victim recovery. Intelligence gathering.

Handling jobs the US government can’t.

As the last unattached member of the Kelly clan, Joe is more than ready to risk life and limb on any mission he’s assigned to, but when it comes to love, he’ll keep his distance. He’s content to watch his brothers become thoroughly domesticated.

Zoe’s had nothing but heartbreak in her life, and she’s determined to start over with a completely new identity thanks to her college friend Rusty Kelly. But it’s the gorgeous smile and tender words of Joe Kelly that begin to weaken her resolve to never risk her heart again. And Joe will have to put everything on the line to save Zoe when secrets of her past resurface – and threaten to tear them apart.

Rating: Narration – B-; Content – D

This eleventh book in Maya Banks’ KGI series of romantic suspense novels, Brighter than the Sun, would have been more appropriately titled Duller than the Dishwater. Honestly, I’m really glad I managed to listen to most of it while I was on the move, either around the house or in the car, otherwise I’d be suffering from the concussion incurred as a result of the number of times I’d’ve banged my head on the desk to keep myself awake.

I can’t believe this is supposed to be a romantic suspense novel. It’s a total misnomer, because it doesn’t possess much of either; the pacing is snail-like and there is NO action worth the name, NO suspense and NO romance, unless you count insta-lust as romance. And I don’t.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

Only a Mistress Will Do (House of Pleasure #3) by Jenna Jaxon

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The man of her dreams . . . belongs to another woman.

Destitute and without friends, Violet Carlton is forced to seek employment at the House of Pleasure in London. She steels herself for her first customer and is shocked when the man rescues her instead of ravishing her. A grateful Violet cannot help but admire the handsome Viscount Trevor. But she must curb her desire for the dashing nobleman she can never have because he is already betrothed to another . . .

Tristan had gone to the House of Pleasure for a last bit of fun before he became a faithful married man. But when he recognizes the woman in his bed, he becomes determined to save her instead. Now, his heart wars with his head as he falls for the vulnerable courtesan. Unable to break his betrothal without a scandal, Tris resolves to find Violet proper employment or a husband of her own. Still, his arms ache for Violet, urging him to abandon propriety and sacrifice everything to be with the woman he loves. . .

Rating: D+

It can be tempting, when you read hundreds of books a year, to confine yourself to picking up titles by authors whose work you know you are going to enjoy. But when it comes to reviewing, I make a point of sampling books by some of the newer names in historical romance, and sometimes I’m lucky and I find a new author to add to my ‘’must read’ list. Sadly, however, it’s been my experience that the ‘finds’ are in the minority.

Jenna Jaxon’s Only a Mistress Will Do is most definitely NOT a find; in fact I now wish I’d lost it before I even started. Its overly contrived plot relies heavily on coincidence and consists of one cliché after another; no sooner have our hero and heroine emerged unscathed from one melodramatic development than they are thrust into another. The protagonists are barely two-dimensional, their behaviour is inconsistent and frequently contradictory, and the big reveal before the halfway point is no surprise whatsoever. And worst of all, this is a ‘romance’ in which readers are repeatedly told the hero and heroine love each other but are never shown the relationship progressing. By a quarter of the way through the novel, we’re meant to believe they’re desperately in love, but there is no chemistry and no romantic development; honestly, had I not been reading the book for review, I’d have abandoned it well before the halfway point.

Violet Carlton has been left destitute following the recent death of her grandmother and has reached the point where the only thing of value she has left to sell is herself. Remembering the name of a brothel once mentioned by her deceased brother (who was killed more than a year earlier in a duel) Violet makes her way there and asks the madam to employ her. A lovely, well-bred virgin will fetch a high price, so the woman is quite happy to accommodate Violet, and five days later, she is sent her first client, the man who has bought and paid for her virtue.

Violet, expecting an elderly roué, is surprised when a darkly handsome young man arrives, but even as she finds herself responding to his caresses, she can’t forget how low she has fallen and is unable to stop herself from crying.  Fortunately for her, this ‘Lord John’ is sympathetic to her plight and, on being told the truth behind her need to earn her living on her back, immediately makes plans to remove Violet from the brothel.  He takes her to the house that was, until recently, occupied by his mistress, promising Violet that he expects nothing in return, and explaining that he knew her brother slightly and is doing his gentlemanly duty by rescuing a damsel in distress.  He also tells her that he is betrothed and has no designs on her; he believes in fidelity in marriage, having seen his parents’ relationship torn asunder by his father’s unfaithfulness, and has no intention of walking the same path.

Tristan, Viscount Trevor, installs Violet in the house and offers to try to find her respectable employment as a companion or governess.  Over the next few weeks, they spend time together in the evenings, talking and getting to know each other, until – bam! – they’re in love and desperately trying to hide it from each other.  Tristan’s enquiries as to a situation for Violet are unsuccessful so he decides that there is only one other option; he must find her a husband.  He can’t marry her himself, but he can at least make sure she weds someone who will treat her well.  Although of course, he is eaten up with jealousy at the thought of her in another man’s arms, and practically snarls when any other man comes within three feet of her.

But naturally,  the passion they feel for one another will not be contained and the inevitable happens – they shag each other’s brains out and Tristan decides that he cannot go through with his marriage to the sweet Miss Harper, whom he had only agreed to marry in order to fulfil his father’s dying wish of gaining possession of the land that marches alongside Tristan’s Yorkshire estate.  But hold – Violet cannot allow him to go back on his word and besmirch his gentlemanly honour!  No, he must not sacrifice his good name for her and taint any children they might have with scandal – he must marry his innocent debutante and be happy!  Hmmm. ‘I will not allow you to sacrifice yourself’ is one of my least favourite tropes in the genre; it’s patronising and implies that the person making the sacrifice is not capable of making their own decisions.  But there is worse to come, although anyone in possession of more than half a braincell will have already worked out exactly why Tristan has been prepared to go to such lengths to help a complete stranger.  After that big reveal, Violet naturally goes from ‘woe is we, doomed to love but can’t be together’ to ‘OMG I will hate you forever!’.

I normally try to avoid spoilers when writing a review, but sometimes they’re unavoidable if one wants to give an accurate picture of exactly what is wrong with a book.  Anyone who has made it to this point and is STILL thinking of reading this novel, look away now.

After the reveal, Violet runs back to the brothel where Tristan found her – and when he finds her there again, she’s just received proposal of marriage from one of his friends.  I started to wonder if it was a bordello or a dating agency, because nobody in this book gets any action there!  Then I was hit by a massive sense of déjà-vu when the prospective groom turns up the next morning to tell Violet he can’t marry her after all because of… er… another… er… thing.  Or something. I never found out what.  So.  Bloke number 1 (Tristan) rescues Violet from a brothel without shagging her, wants to marry her but can’t owing to another obligation.  And bloke number 2 (Tristan’s friend) rescues Violet from a brothel without shagging her, wants to marry her but can’t because… I’ve heard of authors recycling plots, but have never come across it in the same book!

Not content with repeating herself, Ms. Jaxon rummages around in her big ol’ bag of clichés in order to put Violet in yet another tricky situation before finally engineering the ending of Tristan’s betrothal and an HEA for this insipid and unengaging couple.  Only a Mistress Will Do suffers from the cardinal sin of too much telling and not enough showing, and the author has thrown in far too many hackneyed plot devices and failed to develop the romance to even the most basic degree.  Tristan is a walking erection around Violet; fire erupts at the apex of her thighs whenever he touches her (I think she should probably get some ointment for that!) … but exploding loins do not a romance make.  This is the third book in a series, and if you want to subject yourself to it, it can be read  as a standalone. But I really don’t recommend it.